Jim Schneider . . . The Ultimate Players' Coach
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This story was written by Armand Vanore, who has become a
fixture on the local
football scene mostly through his reporting for www.easternpafootball.com.
Coach Jim Schneider (top, kelly green) and his former players for Fernwood
Aluminum. (Armand Vanore is at the left
in the second row -- black shirt) . . . Another photo at bottom of page.
By Armand Vanore (July
Southampton, Pa. -- While covering school football over the past few years I’ve been taken aback by the time the coaches put into working with players and making what literally are “nickels on the dollar” when all is said and done. Basically it’s a labor of love that makes them put in outrageous amounts of their own time so that the kids are taught a way to compete in both sports and in life.
This past Saturday the old Fernwood Aluminum softball team held its first official “Coach Jim Schneider Reunion Barbecue" for, in its purest sense, the ultimate players' coach.
Whenever something like this is planned it is usually difficult to get cooperation from an assortment of people to participate. This event was so easy to prepare because of the outpouring of support for the guy that did everything for them. In no time there were almost 20 former players that could not wait to see Jim. The ones that could not make it (either because of weddings or being out of state) were distraught they could not attend.
A stroke suffered two years ago and the loss of the things that mattered to Schneider most did not dim the aspect of meeting his former players he has not seen in close to 20 years. Using a walker to aid him as a result of the stroke, it took ten minutes to get him in my car. He appeared to be content, living in a small one-room shack on the same street that his business stood.
Fernwood Aluminum was opened in 1975, out in East Lansdowne, by Jim and a partner and was in existence for over 20 years. Their specialty was replacement aluminum windows and in its heyday served contractors and homeowners alike. A modest business, Jim was by no means a wealthy man but was most interested in providing a service at a modest price and having clients that became true friends.
Since 1965, Jim had coached and sponsored a slow pitch softball team in various leagues in Northeast Philly. He decided to rename the team “Fernwood Aluminum" and eventually everyone wanted to play for him. The team consisted of a number of high school stars from Judge, Lincoln, Washington, Northeast, North Catholic, Wood and Dougherty. In the '80s and early '90s the team amassed seven championships in the Vogt league and ultimately some of the best teams from Tacony Park wanted to get on the bandwagon and compete with them.
“I didn’t sleep
at all last night,” Jim told me as I got him in my car. He had that same
look in his eye prior to our final win in 1990 -- over a solid team
coached by Bill Diamond -- that made us 27-0 for the year. That moment
will always be cemented in my mind.
There will never be another coach like Jim. Everyone at the barbecue (mostly centered on the nucleus of his teams from the '80s and early '90s) had to think long and hard if any money came out of the players' pockets during their tenures on the team.
“I remember Jim would enter us in a couple tournaments at Williamsport,” lamented Rick “Doc” Onslager, former player and coach at Northeast High and Dougherty. “He took care of everything for us. There were even envelopes waiting for each of us out there with spending money. Who does that?”
Stopping at Kelly’s bar after games Jim would tell players to put their money away when someone put it on the bar. Another former player, Clark Nissley had this to say: "Every year I remember that he got us new full uniforms as well as multiple practice shirts” There were so many Fernwood practice shirts around reminding me of a time I stopped in for a meat order in Collegeville. The butcher had a shirt on.
Jim never married
and his entire life centered on his mother, his business and softball
team. He was the most beloved and generous coach one could ever be
around. But by the late 1990s Jim lost the three most important things
that mattered to him and much more.
The team disbanded in 1995. A few years later Jim lost his mother. After his partner left and started his own business, Jim was left alone with a business that started to lose steam. The business went next and eventually Jim lost his house.
He eventually landed back on his feet when he moved next to Jerry’s Bar on Baltimore Pike and began bartending there four days a week. But the loneliness of what mattered most to him previously bore on his mind.
Jim didn’t speak much at the barbecue but you could tell that he was taking it all in. “Hey Jim, I coached a girl’s softball team for a few years at Archbishop Wood," quipped Rick Levans, to which Schneider jokingly replied, “Not as easy as you think, right."
The normal bantering went on the entire day. Mike Neri asked everyone if they remember the home run he hit to win the championship in 1982. Former Lincoln star Paul Moore shot back, “None of us remember it, but if you say it happened then I guess it did.”
When pressed to see if the coach remembered, Schneider said that Neri hit a lot of home runs no one remembered.
“I’m going to start up a yearly Fernwood golf tourney” said Moore.
Schneider mildly suggested that he would be the guy handing out the refreshments from his cart.
Coach just can’t
(Special thanks to Ted Silary for publishing this story and to Huck Palmer for getting me to Jim’s house without getting lost.)